“What is all the fuss about infertility?” Michelle, a college student, asked, “A middle-aged fertility specialist spoke about it at the seminar in school this afternoon, and I just couldn’t find the relevance. I mean, we are barely escaping being teens.” She added as she strolled to wash the plates she used to devour her soup and gingerbread. She hadn’t eaten all day.
The question of infertility is slowly becoming a menace, causing social and emotional stings in marriages. It is a significant problem affecting couples in Africa and the world at large. Infertility affects almost one in every six persons of reproductive age worldwide at some point in their life, according to estimates from the WHO.
Although there are some variations in the prevalence of infertility across regions, overall data shows that there has been an upward trend in its incidence in the past decade, with a propensity to see higher trends in the coming years if all hands are not on deck.
What is Infertility?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines infertility as a disease of the male or female reproductive system characterized by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.
However, since fertility in women is known to decline steadily with age, women aged 35 years or older are being evaluated after 6 months of trying to get pregnant. Furthermore, couples with known gynaecological problems or abnormal semen parameters are advised to seek a fertility assessment immediately.
The Crisis of Infertility
Aside from the life-long impacts of infertility on the quality of life of the affected couples, the danger of knowledge scarcity on the subject matter looms to a much higher degree.
Thorough consultations and evaluations of my clients revealed that more than 90% of them never thought they would struggle with infertility, even though they had risk factors that pointed to that. Others complained that they would have started their family cycle much earlier if they had all the information they do now.
What is the Way Forward?
If we want to have a significant effect on preventing infertility, fertility education has to be at the top of the agenda. A great job so far has been done in educating the youth about contraception and other components of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).
I strongly believe that the same energy should be engineered toward conception, which is on the other side of contraception, keeping in mind the long-term impact it has on society.
In European nations, sex and relationship education has been used to lessen the incidence of teenage pregnancies; this is also being incorporated in Africa to some extent.
However, fertility education, which would involve concise, easy-to-understand text, short video clips, and lectures, should be incorporated into senior secondary schools, colleges, universities, and in the social media space, given that most youths spend most of their time on their phones.
Youngsters need to be empowered through fertility education so that:
- They can make informed decisions about how many kids they need and when to conceive naturally.
- The rate of stigmatization in trying to conceive (TTC) couples is lessened, especially in women, as infertility is not only a woman’s problem. Notably, men also have infertility problems as discussed here.
- Most importantly, they can abstain from practices that pose risk factors for infertility. This, I believe, will ultimately reduce the need for artificial conception, and the use of third-party gametes, both of which are financially and emotionally tasking.
Early attempts to address infertility through fertility education will not only solve some of the questions of infertility but will also seek to achieve two of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
These include SDG 3 (Ensuring healthy lifestyles and promoting well-being for people of all ages) and SDG 5 (Realizing gender equality and empowering all women and girls).
I advocate for early fertility education, and I encourage other fertility physicians and experts, sexual and reproductive health activists, to get on the train to campaign for more awareness.